Ben Wilkins – All From Hello (review)

Ben Wilkins – All From Hello (Midnight Train Records) review

Soulful grooves and pristine production highlight his sophomore release

We raved about Ben Wilkins’ debut album back in late 2011. Now, the Canadian singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist is back with his followup, All From Hello. But, don’t expect it to be a carbon copy of his first album.

While his self-titled record was heavily rooted in the early Seventies, echoing artists like Elton John and Todd Rundgren, his sophomore album takes cues from the late Seventies/early Eighties R&B scene – almost every track features strings, background vocals, and soulful rhythms, reminiscent of that time.

The leadoff track, “Breakfast at the Figaro,” begins with piano, but soon settles into a light groove, highlighted by muted drums and strings. He’s also expanded his instrumental palette, adding early synths to some of the tracks. Wilkins’ uses this to great effect on “That’s When I Know,” accenting the chorus with an Atari-like blip. That track also features an extended bongo solo near the end.

In this attention-deficient world, Wilkins expects you to listen to the entire song – oftentimes he will switch gears after several minutes. Take for example “Deflecting Light” – at the 2:19 mark, a chorus of voices comes in, followed by beautiful strings straight out of Saturday Night Fever. “Weather Lines” begins as a moody, mid-tempo number. Then, at 3:44, he hits a few notes on the piano that recall “Bennie & the Jets,” then sings with a soulful grit that shows he’s really improved as a vocalist. The track concludes with a gorgeous sax solo.

Another highlight is the Latin-infused “Day By Day,” which features former Pointer Sister Bonnie Pointer on vocals. This track really showcases Wilkins’ ability to take risks: it’s a soulful track featuring a banjo solo that’s echoed by a vintage synthesizer. Yet it’s all held together by a catchy melody and great groove.

The disco influences really come out during the second half of “A Whisper,“ which features an extended instrumental jam. “What You Do Me” rides on a light keyboard-heavy groove, which feels like something Sade would’ve tackled.

What hasn’t changed is Wilkins’ attention to detail. In this digital-heavy world, he’s created another album that jumps out of the speakers, featuring natural instruments, all exquisitely recorded. Once again, we suggest you track down the actual CD; the difference between the squished mp3s and high-quality sound files is staggering.

If you’re one of those people that’s uttered the words “there’s no good new music” lately, we suggest giving this record a try. It’s great songs with enough remnants of the past to give it a familiar feel. Plus, when Wilkins makes it big, you can tell all your friends you heard him first. Another fine release from one of the most talented up-and-coming songwriters. —Tony Peters